Monday, December 31, 2012

A December of Adventures

This has been the busiest December in 10 years.  That December the Czarina and I ran the Tucson Marathon, I interviewed for a job in Fort Myers and the rest as they say is history.  This month has been one filled with travel and adventures.

The fun started with a quick trip to Atlanta.  It was our first vacation together in more than 2 years.  We played the part of tourists but I'm sure the Czarina would have enjoyed more stops along the way than I would allow.  We enjoyed visiting CNN and going through the Coca Cola Museum but the best part of Georgia was hiking the Appalachian Trail. 

I read a book about five years ago called "Walking the Happy Side of Misery."  It was one hiker's adventure from Georgia to Maine along the trail.  We spent a couple of days checking out the scenery in near perfect weather conditions.
The best part was hiking from Woody Gap to Preacher Point on Cedar Mountain.  I tried to imagine the perseverance it would take to make the trip up the entire trail.  It's a walk that takes a good four months or more depending on how fast you decide to move.  I certainly don't have the love of outdoor living to do it but I bet the Czarina could if she had a mind to try.

The second part of the fun came when the boy came from Los Angeles for Christmas.  His visits mean that we must do something that is beyond the normal routine, whether it's watching the sunrise on Miami Beach or NBA basketball, the fun usually comes at the Czarina's insistence. 

This time the adventure involved kayaking.  I hadn't tried it and neither had the Czarina.  So this trios went to Sanibel Island and Tarpon Bay where we paddled to our hearts content for almost 2 hours.  As my old colleague Nick Carlson pointed it, it's an activity that could be addictive.  It's a great alternative to pounding out the miles every day.  An investment in a double kayak might be in order.

The fun didn't end there.  The boy wanted more so I suggested horse back riding.  This has been an ongoing challenge, especially for the Czarina.  I've done more than my share of riding.  But she's scared silly of horses.  The boy wasn't very excited about it either, but the more he thought about it the more he liked the idea of the challenge.
So off the Lehigh Acres we went to go trail riding.  The Czarina was stone cold silent on the ride out.  I don't ever think I'd seen her that scared.  But they gave her a gentle horse named Duck and they got along famously.  The best part was watching Duck scramble up a small rise up with the Czarina holding on for dear life.  She didn't scream or panic, the Czarina just rode like an old pro.  It took more than 13 years of marriage but the Czarina overcame one of her biggest fears and earned her spurs.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

It's Time for a Change

In the my bedroom closet sits a gun, a rifle to be exact.  I have owned it for almost my entire life.  It was my father's Winchester.  I didn't learn to shoot it until I was about 10 years old.  My uncle Roy took me out into a North Central Kansas field with my .22 and taught me gun safety.

My uncle was a crack shot.  A champion shot who loved the Winchester.  He spent a large part of his life carefully carving the stocks of Winchester's for himself and for others, turning plain Jane rifles into works of art.  He taught me to enjoy and respect guns.

I haven't shot my rifle in more than 30 years.  I keep it as a reminder of my father who died before I was even a year old.  As much this family memento means to me I'm ready to give it up if it means that we can come to some sensible solution to America's gun obsession.

None of us needs ready access to semi-automatic rifles.  Yeah, these guns are fun to shoot, but in the scheme of things, these are weapons meant to do one thing and one thing only, kill other human beings.  We don't need handguns that can be loaded with more than 7 or 8 bullets.  Handguns loaded with a dozen or more bullets are really meant to do one thing, deliver maximum killing power.
Newtown may not wake up the NRA and the powerful gun lobby.  It may take 2 or 3 more Newtown's to do that, but our gun laws need to change.  Our founding fathers didn't envision the weaponry now at our disposal when they drafted the 2nd Amendment.  Gun ownership is a right, but with it comes responsibility.  I'm not saying we need to ban guns, we just need common sense about what weapons we make available to a nation of people suffering through an epidemic of mass murders.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Rink Knows Bo... sort of...

A very important piece of Bo Jackson's baseball legend was recorded thanks to yours truly.  Saturday night ESPN aired one of its great 30 for 30 series on the legendary Heisman Trophy winner from Auburn.  Bo Jackson's decision to play baseball and initially bypass the NFL was huge.  Bigger still was the fact that Jackson decided to play baseball for the Kansas City Royals. 

Back in the 1980's the Royals were one of the best baseball franchises in major league baseball.  I had the good fortune to work at WDAF which was the television home of the Kansas City Royals.  We would broadcast 40 plus road games a year.  We covered the Royals in a big way.  I can remember night's when then team co-owner Avron Fogelman would call the newsroom and ask for the satellite coordinates for that night's game. 

But back to Bo.  He was a baseball wonder.  It's been said and written, but the ball sounded different coming off Jackson's bat than any other major league player.  It exploded off his bat.  I saw Jim Rice play, Dave Winfield, Reggie Jackson, and even Hank Aaron play.  No one hit the ball as hard as Bo.  And no one was faster getting down the line to first base than Bo.  Watching Bo sprint to first base on a routine ground ball was a thing to behold.  No infielder could lob a throw to first was Jackson roaring into first.
Bo hit his first home run, a monstrous blast, against the Seattle Mariners, after being called up from the minors in September of 1986.  Back in the 1980's not every major league game was televised.  On most nights we could send a live truck out to Royals Stadium and plug into the satellite truck and feed back the highlights as they happened live.  Less than a dozen times a year a game wouldn't be televised and you would have to decide if it was worth sending a photographer to get the night's highlights.

The Monday night of September 15th was one of those nights.  I was the 10 p.m. producer at WDAF and it was my call whether to send a photographer that night.  Given the fact that I was a huge sports fan and loved the Royals along with my sports director Frank Boal, the decision was easy.  The only problem was that my only option for shooting the game was Phil Maslin.

Phil is a great photo journalist.  He has a wall full of awards to prove.  In fact, the only award I've ever won from the Society of Professional Journalists is thanks to Phil.  But Phil hated shooting baseball.  It wasn't his strong suit.  Every one of our photographers loved shooting baseball because it meant a night of free food and getting to watch a baseball game for free.  When I told Phil he was shooting baseball that night the look on his face said it all, he would have rather shot another stupid homicide than go to the stadium.

As fate would have it, Phil was the only photographer sent to the game.  KMBC and KCTV didn't send a shooter.  So Phil Maslin was the lone soldier that captured Bo Jackson's historic blast deep to center field in Royals Stadium.  It wasn't pretty, in fact it was a little herky jerky, but it shows the massive clout and thus added to the growing legend of Bo Jackson.

Thinking about that night still makes me feel good.  Royals baseball always made me feel good.  Whether it was Gordon Docking's epic live shot from the Royals' locker room in Toronto when Kansas City beat the Blue Jays to win the 1985 American League pennant or standing in the locker room with George Brett, Bret Saberhagen and Willie Wilson after they had beaten the Cardinals to win the World Series, my memories of baseball in KC are wonderfully endless.  It's a shame Kansas City hasn't seen even a division title in 37 years.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

A Thousand Miles, Music and other Memories

On Thursday I shuffled past 1 thousand miles of running for the year.  I'm pretty sure that makes 41 years in a row.  Since I didn't keep a log until I was 30 I can't officially confirm it but I was a fairly consistent runner through college and immediately after college.  Considering I missed 4 months of running because of various injuries I feel pretty good about it.

What's distressing about this comeback from the last round of injuries has been the less than stunning return of leg speed.  I've endured four major surgeries over the last 8 years and had to struggle to find my legs, but these last 2 months have been really difficult.  I simply don't feel like pushing myself to anything remotely approaching 9 minute pace.  I did one tempo run in the last three weeks where I average close to 9 minute pace.  I know I can run fast but I simply don't feel like it.  I better snap out of it because I signed up for a half marathon next month. 

As to the music I spent the week looking at the various lists from NPR, Rolling Stone and other publications, naming the top albums of the year.  Rolling Stone really surprised me.  I actually own 4 of their top albums for 2012.  The shocker is that Neil Young's "Pyschedelic Pill" came in at #10.  As I blogged earlier, the album has three great tunes, but the bulk of it is just self-indulgent jamming.  Bob Dylan's "Tempest" came in at #2 which made me think that Rolling Stone really isn't catering to what advertisers consider the "key demographics," or the 18 to 49 crowd.

As for the memories, the Czarina and I sat watching the live stream from the Footlocker High School Cross Country Championships this afternoon.  It made me sad when I realized that I only knew about 4 or 5 of the 80 runners competing in the boys and girls race.  The loss of Dyestat has really left me out of the loop when it comes to high school distance running.  It's a giant hole that other Internet running websites simply don't seem to be able to fill.  It makes me wish I had the resources and wherewith all to fill the void left by Dyestat's demise.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Great Kansas Distance Drought

My blog about Kent McDonald raised a question from one of my regular readers, Mason Duede.  He wondered whether if Kansas could lay claim to being a distance running power in the United States?  It’s funny that he brought that question up because when I was much younger, I would pour through the high school lists ranking not just the distance running prowess of the Sunflower State, but how it ranked in track and field as a whole.

Up until the late 1970’s, the state of Kansas was a track and field juggernaut.  A mythical team of boys featuring the best of Kansas from the 60’s and 70’s would have held its own against the other 49 states.  California, Texas and New York would have been tough to beat in a mythical track and field showdown, but Kansas would have been incredibly competitive thanks in large part to the prowess of Jim Ryun, assuming he would double, 400 IH freak Bob Bornkessel, the outstanding triple jumper Vince Parrette and throwers like Bob Obee and Clint Johnson. 
But back to Mason’s original query about the distance legacy of Kansas preps.  Per capita, I would say that Kansas was a distance power nationally up until the late 1970’s.  A large part of that lies at the feet of Jim Ryun.  But the list doesn’t end there.  By 1980 Kansas had 5 sub 4:10 milers. 

A string of Shawnee Missouri South runners, a school that was a distance powerhouse in the 1970's
I decided to look no further than California.  Distance runners have poured out of the Golden State for years.  The name of great runners seem endless, Tim Danielson, Ralph Serna, Curtis Beck, Eric Hulst to name just a few.  The all-time California list cuts off at 4:09.2 so comparing numbers wasn’t exact.  By 1980 California at 38 runners who had run a mile at 4:09.2 or faster.  California had a population of more than 23 and a half million people.  Kansas had about 2.3 million people.  California crushes Kansas for the number of elite high school milers in terms of population. 

But compare to Kansas to say Oregon and the numbers look a little better.  Oregon and Kansas both had 5 milers under 4:10 by 1980, but Oregon's population was larger so the nod goes to the Sunflower State.  But in the years since Oregon has added four more runners to that list while Kansas hasn't had one boy break 4:10.
It’s sad to think that since Steve Smith from Shawnee Misson South ran 4:07.56 in 1980 no other high school runner from Kansas has broken 4:10.  California now has 67 milers at 4:09.2 or better.  It makes you wonder why the drought?  Perhaps we miss the great prep coaches like Wichita East coaches Bob Timmons, J.D. Edmiston or Shawnee Mission South’s Verlyn Schmidt aren't around anymore willing to push kids to super performances. 

There are undoubtedly some very good high school coaches in Kansas.  Van Rose of Shawnee Mission Northwest is great and belongs in the company of Timmons, Edmiston and Schmidt.  But even Van will admit to only training his kids hard enough to win state championships.  Things like Footlocker and NXN are an afterthought in Van’s book and that’s not meant as a criticism.
I think two things are behind the lack of great times.  My guess is some of the best potential milers end up playing soccer.  The rise of soccer has hurt track and field, especially in a small state like Kansas.  The other is the old “Runner’s World” syndrome that I think inhabits the thought processes of the majority of high school coaches.  They don’t want to burn the kids out.  Thus high mileage of 70 or 80 miles a week is off the table.

 I look at the three great Lawrence High distance runners of the last three decades, David Johnston, Chris Williams and Roy Wedge, all state champions, none ascribed to high mileage.  I doubt that either topped 70 miles a week if that during their high school careers.  They chose to run quality over quantity and unless you have the god given speed of a Sebastian Coe than school records like that of Kent McDonald’s will stand for another 20 years.  And yes, Kent had a hand in coaching both Williams and Wedge.  And yes, it pains him that his record from 1971 is still standing.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

KU's Other Record Holder

An email from the Lawrence running group known as The MadDogs pointed out that Kent McDonald claimed first place in the 60 plus age group race at the recent Turkey Trot in my hometown of Lawrence.  You may wonder, who the heck is Kent McDonald.  I'll tell you.  He holds one of the oldest running records on the books at the University of Kansas and for a couple of summers, he was my training partner.

I was lucky to always have great training partners through my formative years of running.  I started with Greg Morgenson in Abilene who went on to be a state champion in the mile in Nebraska.  When I moved to Lawrence I eventually hooked up with Kent, another great mentor.

The first time I saw Kent McDonald run was in 1970 at the Kansas Relays.  I was with my childhood friend Gary Welsh watching the boys high school mile.  I remember a kid a year or so younger than us joining us that Gary knew, he excitedly pointed to a kid with coal black, curly hair in a Lawrence High uniform.  It was Kent's younger brother Greg all fired up about his big brother getting ready to toe the line.  Unfortunately Kent got his ass kick finishing back in the field and I didn't think much about it.

But then a few months later our paths crossed again.  This time it was on a cow pasture turned into a makeshift cross country course in Wamego, Kansas.  Heavy rains had forced the meet, traditionally run at a nearby golf course, onto a patty filled, muddy slab of rolling farmland.  I saw Kent with his Lawrence High teammates.  My teammates on the Abilene squad were more interested in pointing one of Kent's big rivals, Randy Smith from Wichita East.  Kent was injured that day and didn't run.  Smith crushed the field in his race and would go on to have a sensational senior season.

Kent didn't do too badly his senior year either.  He ran a school record in the mile, 4:18.9 if my memory serves me correctly.  That record was broken seven years later by another pretty good runner Doug Peterson.  But it was Kent's 2 mile record that has stood the test of time.  He clocked a 9:08.9 to win the Shawnee Mission North Night Relays. It was one of the fastest 2 miles run by any high school kid in 1971, but still a good 12 seconds behind Randy Smith who had run 8:57.8 at the Kansas Relays a week before.  Kent went on to finish second in both the 2 mile and mile run at state to Smith.

Kent and I didn't start running together until the summer after my sophomore year of track.  By then he already had 2 Big 8 steeplechase championships under his belt.  We would run together two or three times a week.  He usually took it pretty easy on me as we would run anywhere between 7 to 10 miles together.  Kent was always full of encouragement.

The tough days would come when Doug Schreve, a Lawrence High grad who turned into a very good miler at Pittsburg State would join us.  Egos were on the line.  Kent would push the flats and Doug would hammer the hills and I would hang on for dear life.  I learned that if I could engage them in conversation that it would usually put some slack in the pace.  We never timed our runs back then and I often wonder how fast some of those 10 milers were.  It could get downright blistering.

When Kent and I ran together we would rarely throw down the hammer.  Once in a while near the end we would play Paavo Nurmi versus Emil Zatopek.  Kent would be Nurmi and I would be Zatopek and he would always just cruise away in the last quarter mile of the run.  One time I put a scare in him during a nine mile run when we started jawing with each other and from about 4 miles out the gauntlet was thrown down.  I pushed his ass hard for more than 2 miles before I cracked.  He grinned and looked over at me and said he was trashed.

We ran summer races over in Shawnee Mission Park.  The drives to and from the races with Kent would be instructive in all things from rock and roll music to beer.  Kent's dad owned the local Budweiser distributorship.  I always looked forward to getting to run with him. 

The stories were endless.  My favorite was a heart stopping story about the time he was out on a training run with several Jayhawks, I think Jon Callen was among the group, when they flipped off a van that almost hit them on a road north of Lawrence.  The driver of the van turned around and chased the runners down.  The driver and passenger jumped out and a fight ensued.  It turned out the attackers were prison escapees.  Now that's a training run with a twist.

Our training time together had one final spurt during his senior year at Kansas.  I had just been kicked off the cross country team at K.U. as a freshman.  Kent's arm had just come out of a cast and he was redshirting that cross country season.  He had suffered a fall while on a trip to Egypt breaking his arm.  We ran together for a few weeks in October and November.  I was desperately clinging to the hope that I could round myself into shape and get back on the team.  Kent was on his way to a historic track season. 

A bad case of strep throat ended my dream in late November.  My body simply wore down between the demands of the classroom, running and too much college partying.  Kent went on to win his 4th consecutive Big 8 steeplechase championship and become an All-American for the second straight year at the NCAA track and field championships.
Kent McDonald racing alongside America's greatest steepler ever, Henry Marsh at 1976 Olympic Trials
Then that summer he chased Randy Smith to a still standing school record in the steeplechase, 8:28.54.  Kent finished 2nd at the AAU National Championships when he ran that record.  In 1975 his time placed him among the 10 greatest American steeplechasers ever.  I find it ironic that these 2 high school rivals would end up going 1-2 at our nation's national championships their senior years in college, after going 1-2 as high school seniors at the Kansas State Championships.

Both Kent and Randy aimed for the 1976 Olympic Games and both came away from the Olympic Trials disappointed.  Injuries caught up with these 2 great runners.  Smith walked away from the sport while Kent went on to become a fixture on the road racing scene in the south when he moved to Louisiana.  He was a force at everything from 10K to the marathon.  As he grew older he return to Lawrence and became an outstanding age group competitor at triathlons.  His success came despite going through the windshield of a van while out on a bike ride.

Kent is now a successful swim coach in Lawrence and he assists with the cross country team.  Our paths cross on occasion.  It's great to see that he still runs.  It's a shame that he doesn't get the recognition he deserves for that steeple record, but he's understandably overshadowed by a handful of older running records still on the books at Kansas set by a guy named Jim Ryun.  Each and everyone one of Ryun's outdoor records were world records at the time.